Tests show residents of SE Kansas town have extremely high lead levels in blood
9 October 2009, 4:24 p.m.
Wichita Recent medical tests have shown that residents of a southeast Kansas town have more lead in their bloodstream than the average Kansas resident, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lead testing conducted Sept. 8 and 9 found that the median lead level for Treece residents is 4.0 micrograms per deciliter of blood, compared with a norm of 2.5 micrograms for all Kansas residents, according to the report released by the EPA on Thursday.
“It’s an alarm any time we have children with (elevated) lead levels,” said David Bryan, an EPA spokesman in Kansas City, Kan.
Residents of Treece have been exposed to environmental lead left behind by a century of mining operations. The town is surrounded by hundreds of acres of piles of “chat,” which is gray lead- and zinc-contaminated waste left over from the mineral extraction process.
In addition, the area is dotted with abandoned shafts and cave-ins that flooded when the miners left and pumps that kept the mines relatively dry were turned off in the early 1970s.
One of the 16 children tested last month showed a blood-lead level higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the point at which state health officials define lead poisoning. Two others showed levels between 5 and 10 micrograms.
EPA officials estimate that the children tested represent about half the population of Treece up to age 6.
Treece residents and local officials have been campaigning to try to get the EPA to buy out the town and move out the people, as it did with the neighboring community of Picher, Okla.
The lead testing was offered to everyone in town after three top EPA officials visited Treece in August to assess the environmental hazards and listen to residents’ concerns.
Government estimates say it would cost $3 million to $3.5 million to buy up the remaining homes in Treece and relocate the population.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill last month recognizing the health risks posed by living in Treece and authorizing the EPA to buy out the community.